Pittsburgh Pirates Top 10 Prospects Chat With Dejan Kovacevic

Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2011.

Moderator: Dejan Kovacevic will answer your Pirates questions beginning at 2 p.m. ET.

Dejan Kovacevic: Hello, everyone, and welcome to Baseball America's chat about the Pirates' top 10 prospects, which were released on the site today. There also will be a top-30 list for the Prospect Handbook. This was my first year of writing this for BA, and it was a bear but also a blast. Looking forward to continuing it in the future, as I've always had a passion for the prospect aspect of this great game. Let's get started ...

    Ben (Leland Grove): Any early indications on who the Pirates will likely be going after at #1 in this year's draft? Is Anthony Rendon their official frontrunner?

Dejan Kovacevic: The Pirates are playing this close to the vest, as I'm sure they want to check — as everyone else will — that Rendon is healthy. Indications now are that Rendon will be ready to open the season for Rice. From my own viewpoint, I'd be surprised if the Pirates took someone else.

    Blake (Pittsburgh): I can understand wanting to take it slow with Taillon's timetable, but what is the Pirates' rationale for wanting to limit his innings in his first taste of full season ball? Us Bucs faithful want to see as much of this kid as possible.

Dejan Kovacevic: I can understand that, Blake. I'm eager to see him, too. But neither of us is more important than the kid's long-term development. He's going to be young for the Sally League, and he has a lot to learn.

    JAYPERS (IL): Seeing how you have Allie in the closer's role on your 2014 lineup card, does this mean you (or the Pirates) have doubts about him becoming a true SP? If the answer is no, what does he best project as?

Dejan Kovacevic: Thought someone might ask about that. The Pirates are adamant that they will give Allie every chance to be a starter, as they see him as having top-of-the-rotation potential. So, that's the default mode. At the same time, the scouts with whom I spoke will project him only for relief. Hence, the choice.

    Dan (Augusta, ME): Jarek Cunningham seemed to have a somewhat disappointing 2010. How much of that do you think was due to his recovery from 2009's major injury? Also does he still profile as a possible starter at either 2B or 3B or is he destined to be a utility guy? Thanks.

Dejan Kovacevic: Cunningham actually is one of my picks to bounce back big in 2011, as he was coming off a major knee surgery. He performed well in flashes, and he has promising power for a middle-infield slot, but I'd say the idea that he can play shortstop is past.

    Morris (NJ): What did scouts have to say about Colton Cain this season? Is he in your 11-20 range?

Dejan Kovacevic: He had a lower-back issue that cost him significant time, but the Pirates were delighted with his work ethic in rehabbing and with his stuff once he returned. Yes, Cain will end up in 11-20, largely because he's a lefty who still can throw into the 95-96 range (though not yet too consistently).

    Ben (Leland Grove): How much has Andrew Lambo's stock fallen since last year? What does he need to prove this season?

Dejan Kovacevic: Lambo was a very strong candidate for the top 10, and that surely was bolstered by his faring well in the AFL while I was researching and writing. No, his stock absolutely has not fallen. If anything, I'd imagine it's risen, if only because he has been — by all accounts — a more solid citizen with the Pirates than while with the Dodgers. I've spoken to Lambo at length about this, and his view is that this is a turning point for him. We'll see.

    Jake (OH): Could you give us a brief rundown of Mel Rojas Jr., and how close he came to the top 10?

Dejan Kovacevic: He did not come close, but he is a top-30 guy. Rojas has some tools, but he also is pretty rough at the plate. There is no standout trait there, which makes him hard to pin down. He will be something of a project for the Pirates, but they sound excited about the potential.

    Jasen (FLL): How high are you on Heredia? Could he potentially break into the majors as a teenager?

Dejan Kovacevic: I probably will be higher on Heredia than most, as I had the chance to go to Mexico just before his signing and watch him pitch and get to know him and his family. I came away immensely impressed on all fronts. He is 6 feet 5, still growing, super-coordinated, was throwing an effortless 92-93 mph at age 15, and has poise and maturity well beyond his years. I'd be surprised if the Pirates didn't give him some time in the GCL this year.

    Betty (West Palm Beach, FL): What in the world happened to Tim Alderson this past season? Is he still on your overall Top 30 list?

Dejan Kovacevic: Wow. In a live chat? I'll never be able to condense an answer like that! Alderson's 2010 was a huge struggle in every way, except that he showed some mildly encouraging signs a while after being demoted. Suffice it to say he has a long way to go to reconstruct his repertoire — fastball included — into prospect status. No, he is not in the top 30. Not sure he would have been in the top 35, based on some guys left off.

    Frank (Fairfield, CT): Is Dan Moskos still a viable prospect in your opinion?

Dejan Kovacevic: He's at least technically in the running for a spot in the bullpen for 2011, though he'll have to fare way, way better in Class AAA than his yip-fest last summer. Yes, he is still a prospect, still in the top 30. He did pitch very well for Altoona as a closer and, even with that max-effort deliver, he still can bring some heat and a decent slider.

    Dave (Altoona): How do the Pirates see Lambo? I doubt he'll have the bat for 1B, but does he have a shot to be an above average LF or does he project as more of a quality 4th OF? Thanks.

Dejan Kovacevic: Lambo will tell them that. At the moment, he looks like a fourth outfielder, but the bat plays and all that.

    rjg24 (Internets): Dejan - does the new Dominican facility give the Pirates the street cred to attract all the top Latin signees? Who are the young LA breakout stars from the VSL/DSL coming over this year?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's a wonderful place — visited it myself two years ago — but this idea that it's a recruiting tool is not born out by the facts. It does help, but these players in the Dominican get signed on sandlots at tryouts across the country, and probably 95 percent of them do so before they ever see the Pirates' place. It's not close to anything other than other teams' facilities, out past the airport in Santo Domingo. That said, again, it's important to have it once the player is signed. You don't want to be the one team with a rundown facility because word gets out.

    scorp632 (VA): Quincy Latimore - can the terrible K/BB rate allow him to succeed this year in AA?

Dejan Kovacevic: Latimore represented another of my struggles in this process. He hit 19 home runs, but he played home games at McKechnie Field, a homer paradise, and he does have the terrible 136/30 rate that you cite. At the same time, man, this kid has his fans in the Pirates' organization. They like his swing, his makeup, and they sound confident he can become at least respectable in K-zone discipline.

    John (C.R.E.A.M. Ridge): Will Eric Avila jump to WV to start the year? What about Cayonez and Bishop?

Dejan Kovacevic: The Pirates have not yet made level assignments, though they have let out a handful for prospects such as Taillon and the like. Specifically regarding Cayonez, he is a good candidate for that. Showed promising flashes in GCL last summer, including that 7-hit doubleheader.

    Justin (Chicago): Quinton Miller had an up and down season in 2010. Does he repeat loA or does he jump up to high A this season? Is he still a legit prospect?

Dejan Kovacevic: The Pirates wanted to see health and innings out of Miller more than anything after he had some arm trouble, and he at least gave them that. His stature has fallen off a bit, but he still has the build and the stuff for prospect status.

    TNBucs (Tennessee): Does the difference in scouts opinions about the system's pitching have to do with the "fastball command" program in the lower levels? It doesn't preclude flashy K totals the first year or two for a player.

Dejan Kovacevic: Ten scouts can be watching the same player and come up with 10 wholly different views, which was part of my learning experience in the research. I'd hear that one guy had a great sinker, while someone else thought it was nothing special. No, I don't think the Pirates' program had much to do with that, especially since you saw that they allowed sinkerballers Aaron Pribanic and Nate Adcock to use it.

    Travis (San Diego, CA): I heard rumors of Trent Stevenson throwing upwards of 96mph. Are these true? Also, what is his projection as he moves along in the system?

Dejan Kovacevic: I've not heard 96 attached to Stevenson, but he's a big kid who can bring it.

    Chris (Pittsburgh): If we play let's pretend for the 2011 Draft, would Anthony Rendon rank behind Taillon on a Pirates' Top 10 because of the importance of a true ace on a pitching staff, or would he rank ahead of Taillon given that he would be more of a sure thing?

Dejan Kovacevic: Based on BA naming Rendon its college player of the year — a first for a player with his level of collegiate experience — I'd say Rendon is probably something special. Maybe Taillon's showing in 2011 will influence this otherwise, but I'd say Rendon would probably be No. 1 in that scenario.

    Chris (Pittsburgh): Of the myriad Pirate prospect injuries in 2010, is the general concensus that they indicate long-term problems for the players other than lost development time, or are the considered to be more of the "freak accident" type or injuries?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm glad someone asked this, as it might have been THE story of the year in the Pirates' system. The Pirates will say that most of the injuries were of the freak variety, such as high-Class A shortstop Brock Holt getting tangled with a runner and blowing out his knee. Or Tony Sanchez getting beaned twice. But there also were pitching/arm injuries, the kind every organization tries hard to prevent. Too many of those, and red flags get raised.

    Bryce (Tampa, FL): Can you give us a couple of sleepers in the org who you think will take off this year?

Dejan Kovacevic: I already mentioned Cunningham, so let me add Jeremy Farrell, another of those shut down by a knee injury. He was batting .298/.369/.487 when he went down after 75 games, and the Pirates mention him in the same breath as some of their better guys.

    Adam (Raleigh, NC): Matt Curry put up some solid numbers in his debut after a solid career at TCU. Do you see him as having a chance at being a major league regular or is he more of an org filler?

Dejan Kovacevic: I asked a lot of questions about Curry because of his numbers but never got too many excited responses. His power is there, for sure, and he had a .421 OBP, but no one really went to bat for the kid.

    MJ (Valpo): How is Robbie Grossman progressing? Seems he's got a nice set of tools to offer, but hasn't quite put it all together yet...is he someone who could bust out this season and become a top prospect?

Dejan Kovacevic: Grossman did kind of OK for playing at high Class A at his age, especially in drawing 66 walks. But he also had 118 Ks in 470 ABs, and the Pirates were not at all satisfied with the way he swung through hittable pitches. They see this as a pivotal year for him to turn that around.

    Nick (Snowed In): Where did Exicardo Cayonez wind up on the Pirates list? He had a decent season, but made the "Helium watch" and has a lot of potential, what can we expect out of him for the future?

Dejan Kovacevic: He was one of those fringe guys for the top 30, and the Pirates do like his potential, but he still looks pretty raw. Not sure I agree with "a lot of potential," but there is some there.

    Jake (Lockerbee): Any chance Tim Alderson turns things around and becomes the kind of pitcher the Giants enviosioned when they selected him #22 overall back in 2007?

Dejan Kovacevic: That would represent a dramatic — and commendable — transformation from where he is now.

    Steve (Boston): Any hope for Gorkys Hernandez in Pittsburgh? People rave about his defense, but does he have enough to be a starter in the majors?

Dejan Kovacevic: They do rave about Hernandez's defense, to the point that one scout told me he simply glides to the ball and is under it so effortlessly that you don't think you saw anything special. He also is terrific in breaking off the bat and has a good arm. What hurt Hernandez, obviously, was that his season ended just as he finally seemed to be getting going at the plate. From a tools standpoint? Yes, he can play in the majors. But I'm told a little humility will help, too. I know he made a rather rotten impression on some of the major-leaguers last spring.

    Freddie (Steeltown, USA!): Do the Pirates finally have some pieces in place at the MLB level, and enough elite P prospects (Taillon, Allie) to make a serious playoff run in say the next 5-7 years? The NL Central is nothing to really write home about, so can they realistically be competitive in that division once Taillon and Allie arrive?

Dejan Kovacevic: Oh, Freddie, I stopped trying to predict success for the Pirates a long, long time ago.

    DH (PA): Given the 2014 projected lineup, what should the Pirates hope for with the first pick in this June's draft? Is it better for them if the best player in the country is a great position player (Rendon) or a great arm (Purke, Cole)?

Dejan Kovacevic: If they take Rendon, Pedro Alvarez can move across the diamond to first base, and all the long-term infield is missing then is a reliable shortstop. You'd be fairly set at catcher and two of the three outfield spots, too.

    Mark (Fargo, ND): Who in the pirates top 30 has the best chance to end up being a closer?

Dejan Kovacevic: Stetson Allie. But the Pirates also like Victor Black, who will move into a relief role this year. Black will be an 11-20 guy on the list.

    Pigs (Fargo, ND): Sanchez and Tallion the only guys with a chance to make the top 100?

Dejan Kovacevic: The BA editors would know that far better than I would. I'd think Allie has a chance, too.

    Kevin Joseph (Durham, NC): Congrats on the new promotion Dejan! Did young VSL prospects Jose Ozuna, Orlando Castro, and Manuel Moreno get any consideration for the Top 10? Same question for DSL SS Jodaneli Carvajal and C Sammy Gonzalez.

Dejan Kovacevic: Thanks, Kevin, but I'll still be writing lots of baseball both in my day job and for BA. Of your list there, Carvajal got the most consideration, with one team official calling him maybe the most natural shortstop in the system. (That's not saying all that much, but hey ...) In general, these types of players need to do something in North America before anyone takes them too seriously, so keep that in mind, too.

    William (Salt Lake City, UT): What 2010 draftee is most likely to make his MLB debut first ?

Dejan Kovacevic: Taillon has outstanding potential and looks refined enough already that it probably will not take him long.

    DH (PA): How likely is it that Alvarez is still playing 3B in 2014?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm a little surprised he's playing it in 2011, to be honest, especially if the Pirates have any serious design on taking Rendon.

    Mel (Eugene, OR): When looking at Rudy Owen's numbers, they grade very well. Where do you think his ceiling is at?

Dejan Kovacevic: Owens was among the most challenging players for me to evaluate, as I had to be careful to ask scouts whether they saw him early in the season or late. For reasons no one seems to understand, Owens' velocity took a nice jump at midseason, and that made him look — finally — like something more than the next pitch-to-contact Zach Duke type. It might just be that Owens had his innings curtailed, but whatever it was, it was seen internally and externally as a new level for him.

    Craig (Pittsburgh): Do the Pirates have the depth or willingness to trade for MLB talent like the Brewers have done?

Dejan Kovacevic: Not unless they moved guys among their top three. It's not a deep system, as you'll see in the top-30 list. In fact, one of my most powerful impressions from this project was that, for as comfortable as we all get in hearing some of the same names and thinking of their potential, the system really is not too deep, especially in terms of position players. There are possibilities for pitching.

    Andy (Sarver, PA): Pirate fans don't you think are being misled on Starling Marte? His plate disipline seems to get worse with each level. What are your thoughts about him missing so many pitches.

Dejan Kovacevic: Not sure where anyone would be misled regarding Marte. I know that I've consistently portrayed him as having significant potential with his tools but also as being plenty raw, especially in the area of plate discipline. The Pirates are adamant that he has the ability to address that. On top of that, Marte's move between levels was accompanied by a hand surgery.

    Kyle27 (Vermont): Marte's turning 22, and while not old, we should have seen some power by now, shouldn't we? 15-20hrs is average to average-plus power are you still on board with this?

Dejan Kovacevic: I am, but the removal of the hook of the hamate bone — the process Marte had done — saps a hitter's power for several months. Alvarez had the same procedure and now is looking just fine from the power standpoint. Marte is not seen as some great power type by anyone, but he should be able to have some.

    Jon (Peoria): What do you think of Josh Harrison as a 2b prospect?

Dejan Kovacevic: With Harrison, we get to the last of my angst-ridden choices. Given his hitting — so consistent — I wanted so badly to get him into the top 30, even though he lacks the size, power, speed or defense that you want to see in a prospect. You'll find out in the book if I succeeded.

    Wilbur Miller (Silver Spring, MD): Taillon over Harper? Do you think maybe the scouts were telling the front office what it wanted to hear?

Dejan Kovacevic: I don't know, Wilbur. What I do know is that I was writing months in advance of the draft that the Pirates didn't like Harper. They sounded like they meant it, but only they can know whether or not it was manufactured. They still ended up paying Taillon $6.5 million, so it's not like they got off scot-free.

    Fernando (Whitby, On): It really seems the top 10 is heavy in recent draft picks, meanwhile Diego Moreno put up dominant numbers in A and was named the #16 prospect in the FSL in '10. Is he not top 10 worthy?

Dejan Kovacevic: Moreno was close, like Lambo, but he will have to come up with something more than a blazing fastball.

    Brendan (Colorado): How would Taillon's pitches rate on the 20-80 scale? What about Allie?

Dejan Kovacevic: All of that will be in the BA publication, and I really don't want to take that away from the editors.

    Matt (NY): how far off is D'Arnaud from pushing Walker from 2nd or do you see either walker moving to 3rd and Alverez at 1st or D'Arnaud being a utility player?

Dejan Kovacevic: We'll take one more after this one. D'Arnaud's inability to hang onto the shortstop position — Jordy Mercer bumped him to second in Altoona at midseason — was a concern of mine in getting him into the top 10, but I'm hearing he still will get another chance to play there. For now, yes, d'Arnaud looks like a utility player.

    CA Pirate (Santa Clara): How do you rate the quality of the top 30 prospects overall? Are all legitimate prospects or the last ones added just to fill out the list?

Dejan Kovacevic: Overall, it's better than in years past. In doing this project, I created a set of index cards for about 50 players, and I had a surprisingly easy time getting to that number. I can guess that it was much more difficult in years past, such as when Jamie Romak was No. 7 not that long ago. It's a better system, and it's deeper. But it's neither great, nor terribly deep in the context of the industry. ... Thanks for everything today. This was cool.